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86 - Tim Burton - (Passenger Request)

Ep. 86

Tim Burton

"Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else's dreams?"

-Tim Burton

Today's episode comes to you as per YOUR recommendation, passengers! Nope! It’s not another haunted tale about a murderous house or Another far fetched story about Moody having his colon cleansed by an alien with a shop vac! We asked who you wanted to hear about and you answered pretty much unanimously! You sexy sumbitches wanted to hear about none other than Mr. Burton! So today we are going to discuss all things related to the fantastic thrill ride known as BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA! That’s right! Jack Burton!

Kurt Russel and his big rig crushing through.. um... wait…

hold on a second.

Ok, that’s my bad…

it’s actually the OTHER Mr. Burton of importance, TIM BURTON!

Tim Burton was born Timothy Walter Burton on August 25, 1958 in Burbank, California. His mother was Jean Burton, later the owner of a cat-themed gift shop, lending to the notion that she, too, was quirky before quirky became fashionable.

"I don't know about that," Burton frowns today. "I found it more horrific than quirky but that's my opinion. Opening a cat store in Burbank was just a very strange idea. I don't think it did very well." His father was William "Bill" Burton, a former minor league baseball player who was working for the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department. Tim's younger brother, Daniel, was born in 1961.

Although he grew up in a typical American family in a typical American suburb, Tim did not have a typical, happy childhood. He recalls that he was a sad child who kept to himself. He didn’t even feel close to his family. His father wanted him to play sports and his mother tried to get him interested in playing the clarinet, but Tim resisted both. Although he did admit to playing baseball for a bit.

"I played baseball," he reluctantly admits. "My dad was a baseball player. He had been a professional athlete, and so it's easy for me to relate to that sort of dynamic with parents and kids, pushing and pulling them one way or the other."

He spent a great deal of his time in his room or watching TV. In talking of his strange childhood he recounts a story of his parents almost literally walling him in:

"When I was younger, I had these two windows in my room, nice windows that looked out onto the lawn, and for some reason my parents walled them up and gave me this little slit-window that I had to climb up on a desk to see out of. I never did ask them why.

"But my parents are dead now, so I guess the answer will remain unanswered as to why they sealed me in a room. I guess they just didn't want me to escape."

When he was ten years old, Tim went to live with his grandmother. She allowed him to spend even more time by himself, which he appreciated. He did not have many friends. Unlike other kids his age, he was not interested in after-school activities, sports, or popular music. He felt like he did not fit in, especially at school, where he was not a good student. Rumor has it that he attempted to burn the place down with everyone in it.

That rumor was actually started by ME, at this exact moment and of course it’s horse shit.

Although he felt alone in his world, Tim did find one thing that made him feel at home: monster movies. He spent many hours watching these movies on TV and in theaters. He identified with Frankenstein, Godzilla, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Tim felt that the creatures in the movies were not evil, rather, they were just misunderstood. In his mind, it was the people trying to destroy the creatures who were the real monsters. In the book Burton on Burton, he says, "I've always loved monsters and monster movies. I was never terrified of them, I just loved them from as early as I can remember." Feeling more empathy for the monsters in the popular horror movies of the day than he did with the adults in his life, he says: "I don't know why but I always related to characters like Frankenstein. I think a lot of kids do; it's easier to relate to the monster in the sense of he's alone. Growing up, you could feel those feelings and the way you felt about your neighbours is like they're the angry villagers.”

"I was never scared of monster movies. I could happily watch a monster movie but if I had one of my relatives come over, you'd be terrified."

Those same basic facts are always trotted out about Burton's childhood.

The young Burton won a poster-designing competition when in the ninth grade, and his anti-litter design adorned the sides of Burbank's garbage trucks for a year; he rarely mentions his younger brother; he wanted to be the actor who plays Godzilla; he played sports, but has since described himself as 'pushed' into this, he produced a number of Super-8 home movies that have since been lost. Those are the rest of the basics that you'll always find when looking for info about his childhood.

In many ways, this is unsurprising. Burton himself has gone on record about the uneventful nature of his early life saying, “it's weird, but the only experiences I remember from childhood are the ones which had a major impact: fearful things, like from a scary movie." Going through numerous interviews, it does indeed seem that the only things from this time that actually stuck with him are scary movies and the odd cult TV show, be it The Prisoner or Gilligan's Island. Only when he's asked by interviewers to explain the origins of his images of a bleak, bland suffocating suburbia (like Frankenweenie, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Ed Wood or, pretty much every movie he’s ever been a part of.), alienated children (Vincent, Beetlejuice, Batman Returns, Mars Attacks! The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy or… any…uh.. other movie… he’s, uh… ever been a part of), or heroes who seem 'weird' to the people around them (ya’ know… like pretty much ALL of his films) Only at these times does Burton, seemingly bored by such a line of questioning, roll out the usual anecdotes that seem to be accepted as representative of his childhood.

When pressed, Burton's most regular description of his youth is to state something along the lines of, “if you didn't speak well, if you didn't hang out with the other children or didn't play sports, if you liked monster movies, you were strange.”? To the young Mr. Burton though, this outside status had advantages. The very fact that they categorised him this way allowed him to see the world from an external point of view.

"That meant my perception of normality was strange. For me, reality is bizarre."

However, Burton clearly didn't see this aspect of his childhood as unique, nor did he consider that he was a special, isolated case. “Every time I looked around... it looked like everyone had their own private world. You didn't see too many people... paying attention. They were in their own special worlds." This was an idea that he would soon be able to explore in his short film, Vincent.

It could be said that Burton has reshaped his own experiences in childhood to suit his later media image - that of the shy yet talented young artist and has now come to rely on them, maybe even believe them, exactly as another imaginative young man comes to believe his fantasies in Burton's first film to receive any kind of commercial release, “Vincent”. As Burton's friend and frequent collaborator Glenn Shadix put it, "the magazine idea of Tim is this weird, wigged-out, crazy person, and he's not like that, there's something very solid about him - yes, I think he always felt like a fish out of water growing up, but that doesn't mean his creativity is fuelled by pain or anger." Caroline Thompson, again both a friend and a collaborator, feels the same. For her, Burton's work has a "real affection for neighbourhood life... although he perpetuates this perception of himself as ... damaged, from my perspective it's just the opposite... he's escaped some fundamental damage that shuts most people down." Burton's life begins to be better documented from the time he first moved into the film world, having won a scholarship to the Disney-backed California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in 1976. One of his short film projects while at CalArts, Stalk of the Celery Monster was soon deemed good enough by Disney to warrant offering him a job as an animator, and he shifted base to Disney's Burbank lot.

Despite not being credited on the films, Burton’s initial tenure at Disney saw him working on both The Fox and the Hound and Tron.

His work was enough to get him recognized by a couple of Disney executives, who allotted him a small sum of cash to develop a short film of his own based on a poem he had written. This came to be known as Vincent, a short stop-animation film that followed a boy named Vincent that wants nothing more than to BE Vincent Price, narrated by Price himself. Which is amazing because, well… it’s Vincent fuckin Price.

While not anywhere close to what would be considered “Disney material” for the time, the short film was still a strong first effort from Burton as a director. “Vincent”, the short film, received accolades and awards, because it’s VINCENT FUCKING PRICE...and Burton would frequently reference it in his future works.

Despite Vincent’s relative success, the short film only saw a small, limited release in a single Los Angeles movie theatre before being locked away into the Disney Vault.

However, Burton’s effort on the film was not overlooked. He was given additional work as both an animator and a concept artist for Disney’s next feature animated film, “The Black Cauldron”.

Not-so-affectionately known as the “black sheep of Disney films,” The Black Cauldron suffered a number of issues during production.

Creative differences between personnel led to animators leaving the project. After a screening of the film in 1984, Disney exec Jeffrey Katzenberg marched down to the editing room and started to cut the “scarier” scenes himself- It wasn’t until Disney CEO Michael Eisner stepped in that Katzenberg relented. Still, over 12 minutes of footage ended up being cut from the film. Dick move, Katzy… dick move.

The Black Cauldron was a commercial and critical flop, with critics citing flat characters, scary visuals, and sloppy jumps in the animation as key reasons for the film’s failure. Probably because ol Katzy went in all willy nilly just chopping shit up. Again, I say… Dick move, Katzy… dick move.

However, while production on The Black Cauldron was wrapping up, Burton was already hard at work on a project of his own.

While the troubled production wrapped up on The Black Cauldron in 1984, Tim Burton had managed to secure a budget for another short film through Disney.

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie clocks in at just under half an hour and the cast included Shelley Duvall (The Shining), Sofia Coppola (Director, Lost in Translation), and Daniel Stern! Yes, THAT Daniel Stern. Marv from Home Alone and the narrator of the 80’s television hit show, “The Wonder Years”, which most of you are probably too young to know or remember and... you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Anyway, Frankenweenie follows the story of a young Victor Frankenstein living in a picturesque white-picket-fence suburban neighborhood.

All is well until his dog, Sparky, is struck by a car, right in front of him. Ugh!

As characters named Frankenstein often tend to do, he sneaks out in the night to raid the grave of his former friend and straps the corpse to a table hooked up to a number of improvised electronic instruments.

One bolt of lightning later... and Victor’s pal is back to wagging his tail just as he did before the accident, just with a few more stitches (and from the looks of things, pieces of other people’s dogs).

From there, the film plays just as any other Frankenstein’s Monster story would, but instead of angry villagers, you have paranoid neighbors. Instead of a fearsome, misunderstood monster, there’s a spry, happy, reanimated pup.

While the film is a call back to the golden age of the silver screen both in style and substance, Disney executives weren’t as impressed with the final product. FUCKIN’ KATZY! You know that scene chopping sonofabitch was involved.

Frankenweenie was meant to accompany the theatrical re-releases of The Jungle Book and Pinocchio, but after reviewing the film, the execs deemed that it was far too scary for the children that would be filling the theaters. Kids are pussies, just saying.

The film was shelved, placed into the Disney vault alongside Vincent, and Burton was accused of “wasting money” on a kid’s film too scary to actually be seen by kids.

Tim Burton was then fired from Disney after completing the film, stating that “It was a ‘thank you very much, but you go your way, and we’ll go our way’ kind of thing.” KATZY! You prick!

Given that Frankenweenie was completed just after the disastrous 1984 screening of The Black Cauldron, it’s no surprise that Disney would want to distance themselves from yet another film that was “too scary.”

Although Frankenweenie was not released to the public, it was shown in private screenings. Comedian Paul Reubens was at one of these screenings When he saw the film, and while NOT masterbating into a bucket of popcorn...this time, Reubens knew that Burton was the perfect person to bring his character, Pee-Wee Mother fucking Herman, to the big screen.

Burton was twenty-six when he met Reubens. By then Reubens's character of Pee-Wee Herman was well developed. If you’ve been hog tied in someone’s basement for the last 30 years, Pee-Wee Herman was a grown man, but his bizarre and often immature behavior made him seem more like a spoiled child. He always dressed in a gray suit with a red bow tie. He had a large collection of toys, including his most prized possession: a shiny red bicycle. Which would inevitably be stolen by that fat fuck, Francis… I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I!!!???


Ol TB (That’s Mr. Burton to you passengers) was thrilled when a representative from Warner Brothers Studios asked him to direct the movie Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. He liked the material and he needed another project since he had quit his job at Disney after finishing Frankenweenie. Or was asked to leave… or was shit canned… Either way He also felt that he understood the Pee-Wee Herman character. Ac- cording to Burton. "The Pee-Wee character was just into what he was doing. It was nice that he didn't really care about how he was perceived. He operated in his own world and there's something I find very admirable about that.” Like jerkin it in movie theaters… that really happened, passengers… look it up.

In the movie, Pee-Wee's beloved bicycle is stolen. BY FUCKING FRANCIS! UGH! He goes on a Cross-Country trek to get it back, and on the way meets many interesting characters. Burton was careful to not put too many of his own ideas into the film. He understood that although he was the director it was really Reuben’s movie But Burton was still able to add some of his own personal touches. For example, there are two parts that feature stop-motion animation. Burton used this technique to animate a scene in which Pee Wee dreams his bicycle is being eaten by a tyrannosaurus rex. He also used stop motion to animate a truck driver named Large Marge. Many people think that Large Marge's distorting head is one of the funniest parts of the movie. “TELL EM LARGE MARGE SENT YA!

Cool side story, the same group that animated the large marge scene also did the stop motion animation for the Wil Ferrel film, Elf. You know, the part where Buddy was heading off to NY to see his dad and the narwhal says “Bye Buddy! I hope you find your dad!” Yeah, that was the Chiodos Brothers. Even deeper, Jon Favreau, the director of Elf… and Iron Man… and the Avengers… he voiced the narwhal. Ok…. sorry… I’m a nerd.

ANYWAY! Another way that Burton enhanced the movie was with his unexpected choice of composer for the musical score. Burton hired Danny Elfman, lead singer of the pop band Oingo Boingo, who’s song was our drink pop tune for this episode, to create music for the movie. Although Elfman had never scored a movie before, and literally almost said “NO” to the offer, the circus-like music he wrote turned out to be perfect for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. The film was the first of many that Elfman would score for Burton. Ya know… like DAMN NEAR EVERY FILM HE’S EVER DONE!

The next film that Burton would direct would be none other than Beetlejuice! For those of you who for some ridiculous reason don't know, The plot revolves around a recently deceased couple who become ghosts haunting their former home, and an obnoxious, devious poltergeist named Beetlejuice from the Netherworld tries to scare away the new inhabitants. Beetlejuice's budget was US$15 million, with just US$1 million given over to visual effects work. Considering the scale and scope of the effects, which included stop motion, replacement animation, prosthetic makeup, puppetry and blue screen, it was always Burton's intention to make the style similar to the B movies he grew up with as a child. "I wanted to make them look cheap and purposely fake-looking", Burton remarked. The test screenings were met with positive feedback and prompted Burton to film an epilogue featuring Betelgeuse foolishly angering a witch doctor. Warner Bros. disliked the title Beetlejuice and wanted to call the film House Ghosts. As a joke, Burton suggested the name Scared Sheetless and was horrified when the studio actually considered using it. Which is fucking amazing.

While working on Beetlejuice, warner bros approached Burton about working on Batman. Yes, Batman. One of the reasons that Burton wanted to direct Batman was that he felt that he understood the Batman character. He says, "I loved Batman, the split personality, the hidden person. It's a character I could relate to. Having those two sides, a light side and a dark one and not being able to resolve them."

It is important for Burton to connect to the characters he directs. Many observers believe this is why he tends to do movies about dark characters, who, like himself, have trouble fitting in with the people around them.

Even though he is a well-known director, Burton often feels like an outsider. He has suffered frequent bouts of depression and has a reputation for being short-tempered and moody. In his twenties he had a hard time communicating with people and rarely made eye contact. Burton usually prefers to be alone rather than with other people. Even his appearance is unusual -he has pale skin, droopy eyes, and an unruly mop of dark hair. He dresses only in black. Sounds like me but with hair...

Despite his reputation, Burton does have a few close friends. He’s also had three long-term relationships. The first was with German artist Lena Gieseke, whom he met while filming Batman. The two were married in 1989,

During the first year of his marriage to Gieseke, Burton worked on Batman, a much bigger movie than anything he had worked on before. The production budget for Beetlejuice was $15 million. For Batman, it was $40 million. Burton filmed the movie at Pinewood Studios in Great Britain, where his sets took up most of the 95-acre backlot and seventeen soundstages

Burton faced several challenges working on Batman. One of the first problems he encountered was resistance to his choice for the lead role. Burton cast the infamous Michael Keaton as the star of his movie. Many people doubted that Keaton would make a good Batman. Those people are what we at the train station like to call “dumbasses”. He did not have a muscular build and was not considered to be an action-adventure actor. Angry assholes wrote hundreds of letters to Warner Brothers demanding that the part be recast. But Burton stood by his decision. He told interviewer Alan Jones. "I looked at actors that were more the fan image of Batman, but I felt it was such an uninteresting way to go."

Another challenge Burton faced was that the writers kept rewriting parts of the script during filming. The writers got new ideas or realized that certain parts of the script would not work as well as they had originally thought. The constant changes were confusing and frustrating for Burton. He struggled to make the movie flow smoothly and to be sure that the plot was not too hard to follow. He told Jones, "It was tough from the point of having no time to regroup after the script revisions: I never had time to think about them. I always felt like I was catching up.”

Burton also felt the pressure of working on a big-budget picture. Studio executives had high hopes for the film. They had put a lot of money into it and expected it to make a lot of money back for them. In addition, millions of Batman fans were waiting to see how Burton would portray the beloved comic book character. This was also the first time that Burton had worked with a major star. Jack Nicholson, who played The Joker, was a superstar in Hollywood at this time.

Burton met these challenges, and when Batman came out in 1989 it was a huge success. Most of the fans liked the darker Batman that Burton created. However, Burton himself was not happy with the film. He felt that he let the script unravel, which resulted in a confusing plot with holes and inconsistencies. Burton eventually agreed to make the sequel, Batman Returns, because he wanted to correct these mistakes. But before working on the second Batman movie, Burton did a project of his own.

Between the two Batman movies, Burton wrote, produced, and directed Edward Scissorhands. The idea for the movie came from one of his many drawings. Burton drew constantly, both on and off the set. The drawing that inspired the movie was of a young man who had large, razor-sharp scissors instead of hands,

In the movie, which has been described as a modern-day fairy tale. Edward is the creation of an inventor (played by Vincent fucking Price), who died before he could give Edward human hands. An unusually shy and gentle man, Edward is left to go through life unable to touch anyone without hurting them. He is taken in by a kind woman played by Winona Ryder, who later went on to be Will’s mom in stranger things, and for a while is welcomed by her neighbors, who are thrilled with his ability to sculpt shrubs and cut hair. But affection soon turns to fear! There is a violent confrontation, after which Edward is exiled from the suburbs.

Burton cast Johnny Depp to play the part of Edward scissorhands. Burton felt that Depp had an innocent quality that was key to Edwards' character. He also thought that Depp had expressive eyes, which was important because the character does not speak very much. Burton and Depp worked well together and went on to become good friends. Though not a blockbuster, the movie did well. Most of the reviews from critics were positive, praising Burton's imaginative style. Many reviewers also noted that the movie was obviously a very personal one for Burton. In it, Burton's own feelings and life experiences are strong themes.

Like Edward, Burton felt he did not fit in with his surroundings, especially when he was you